Cleavers, poison and snakes | How to spot saints in paintings | National Gallery

Cleavers, poison and snakes | How to spot saints in paintings | National Gallery


Saint Laurence was burnt alive on a metal rack, so he’s usually shown carrying it. Story goes that, while being cooked, he turned to his torturers and said, “I’m done on this side, flip me over!” Hi, I’m Ed, part of the Learning team here
at the National Gallery. In this series, we’re going to explore some of the
symbols that you can find in the paintings in our Collection.
Now, many artists knew the people who saw their paintings would recognize the
symbols they carefully placed in them. Some of these paintings are over 700
years old! They might not planned on that. Meanings
get lost or forgotten over time, so these videos are here to help you make sense
of some of the secrets hidden in the Gallery. Today we’re going to help you
learn how to spot your saints. As the National Gallery’s got a lot of
Christian devotional paintings you’ll find a lot of saints. Whether the
paintings were meant to hang in a church in a home or be clasped tightly in
someone’s hands, they connect believers with someone who had made it to heaven.
Here was someone you could pray to if your problems were too great to bear or
perhaps too trivial to bother God with. Perhaps your town had a patron saint or
you were named after a saint. Connections to saints could be very personal so it
was important the worshippers knew who they were looking at in the painting. So
how do you spot them? Well, saints are usually associated with
attributes: objects or clothing which represent their deeds or what they
became known for. Even if painting fashions and styles
change, if you look for the attributes you should still be able to recognise
them. For example, Saint George. The ‘Golden Legend’, the medieval text on the
saints that the artists often drew their inspiration from, said Saint George
defeated a dragon. So he often appears as a knight in shining armour charging the
dragon with his spear, whether that dragon had spotted wings in 1470, has
crawled out of a lake with its webbed feet in 1555, or suddenly develops a beak
in about 1890. So let’s take a whistle-stop tour of the saints. Saint Michael led God’s army against Lucifer’s rebels, so he’s often shown wearing armour
defeating the devil. The battle only appears in a short
section in the ‘Book of Revelations’ but it really caught the medieval
imagination so there are lots of paintings of Saint Michael defeating the
devil. Also it presents that difficult problem for artists: how do you show the
devil? Well, an imaginative hodgepodge of terrifying creatures is how. Saint Jerome
has a load of attributes, but two of the most common are a cave because he
retreated to the desert to atone for his sins
often beating his breast with a stone and a lion because he pulled a thorm out
of its paw, and befriended it. Actually the original story is about someone else
but the ‘Golden Legend’ says it was Jerome so it now gets given to him. Saint
Francis of Assisi appears with the stigmata the same wounds as Christ’s on
hands feet and side, because they were said to have appeared on Francis’s body
towards the end of his life. Saint Veronica carries the veil she used to
wipe the sweat off Christ’s face as he carried his cross to Calvary. This one
doesn’t have Christ’s face on it. Saint John the Evangelist often appears young,
clean shaven, and dressed in red. The cup and snake allude to the poison he drank
to prove his faith. Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, holds the candle
that miraculously relit after the devil blew it out. The woman next to her, Saint
Apollonia brings us to the martyrs. Martyrs died for their faith, so their
attributes usually gruesome reminders of how they suffered. She holds a pair of
pincers and a tooth – she had her teeth pulled out. Saint Peter Martyr has a sword
or cleaver in his head, sometimes his chest. He was killed by assassins hired
by vengeful Venetian Nobles who had fallen foul of Saint Peter’s relentless
persecution of heretics. He also holds the common attribute of all martyrs the
palm leaf of victory. It’s what Greek or Roman athletes would be given when they
won sporting contests. Martyrs are victorious in death, reborn in Heaven,
Spot a palm leaf, spot a martyr. Here’s another Saint Peter holding the
keys to heaven and hell. You can also see him wearing blue and gold. Saint Dorothy
was mocked on the way to her execution by a man who said, “bring me back flowers
from Paradise”. Miraculously, they were delivered to him, and put in his place, he
converted to Christianity. So Saint Dorothy appears with flowers. Saint
Catherine appears with a wheel or part of one. It was the breaking wheel she was
meant to be tortured on – I won’t explain how that works, it was horrible – but the
wheel was destroyed by a bolt of divine lightning. Then, she had a head cut off so
she often appears with a sword. Saint Lucy’s name means light, so she often
appears with an oil lamp, or, eyes on a plate. A later legend says that she
plucked her own eyes out to silence an admirer who wouldn’t stop praising her
beauty. She’s the patron saint of eye afflictions. Saint John the Baptist can
sometimes be seen holding a lamb. This is the sacrificial lamb which is a sign of
Christ’s sacrifice for all mankind. John can also appear unkempt because he lived
in the desert, and holding a staff with a crucifix on top. You’ll find him
elsewhere in the gallery not looking too well. So, if you see a saint in a painting,
have a look for what they’re holding or wearing, and you might find the hints you
need to identify them. If you’d like to learn more about our paintings, click
here or here. For a full list of all the paintings we’ve shown in this video, have
a look at the description below. If you’ve enjoyed these sort of videos, why
not subscribe or leave us a comment down below. Thanks for watching.

13 thoughts on “Cleavers, poison and snakes | How to spot saints in paintings | National Gallery

  1. Your website and YouTube channel are awesome! Italian museums should learn from what you do! We have tons of awesome art here and we often don't explain and display it in the right manner. Luckily at least the Uffizi are getting there πŸ™‚

  2. I'm from INDIA and I really love your Channel ! I'm really impressed with LEONARD DA VINCI work MICHAEL ANGELO work , RAJA RAVI VARMA work and RAPHAEL work ! When I was 17 met these all Artist thru news paper article I saw their Painting in news paper and I really impressed with their choose of Colours , climate in Painting ! Different Characters ! and so many things attracted Me in Childhood ! I always try to do like them , lil bit I'm doing like them on HINDU MYTHOLOGY stories !
    Please make a Vedio WHEN OLD MASTERS were using home Made pigments ( Minerals , Earth Pigments , Natural Trees Pigments etc … )! πŸ™πŸ»πŸš©

  3. I visited the National Gallery this summer and was absolutely overwhelmed. I got to see everything I wanted to see, but next time Iβ€˜m getting a guided tour for sure.

  4. ED'S FLIPPANCY ABOUT YOUR SAINT BEING C OOKED… PROMPTED ME TO REPLY WITH THE FUNNY, WHEN HE ASKED HOW DO YOU SPOT YOUR SAINTS? THEY'LL BE THE ONES IN THE ST HELEN'S RUGBY TOPS? OK; akin to his initial flippancy that reply wasn't amusing, either…

  5. Not a practicing Christian but I definitely enjoy the art, especially the iconography. It's interesting how they came up with a system to distinguish the saints from each other.

  6. Shopt the book Marks, no refuses hace the dv stays un group, of five ,only litle move is dv ,stay,s Ian baile(whitegounchs)

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